Japan displays naval power
An armada of carriers, cruiser, destroyers and submarines gathered off Japan’s coast recently in a display of naval power that showcased Tokyo’s latest warships and signaled wider engagement by the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific.
The Fleet Review — held October 18, 2015, in seas near Tokyo — was the first major display of Japanese military hardware since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won lawmaker approval for legislation that for the first time since World War II will allow Japanese Soldiers to defend their foreign allies.
Abe is pursuing a doctrine of collective self-defense with allies meant to give his nation a bigger role in regional security to counterbalance the military power of an increasingly assertive China.
Neighboring China, which has strained ties with several Southeast Asian countries over territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, has said it is wary of Japan’s changing defense posture.
Abe, in an address after the maritime show, told Sailors to gird themselves for future missions and “to continue to guard the nation’s peace.”
Joining the Japanese Navy were vessels from Australia, France, India, South Korea and the United States, including the Japan-based aircraft carrier, the 333-meter-long USS Ronald Reagan. In total, 50 vessels and 61 aircraft participated in the display, which is held every three years.
The centerpiece of Japan’s naval lineup was the Izumo helicopter carrier, Japan’s biggest warship since World War II. The 248-meter-long flat top, which was commissioned in May 2015, is a highly visible example of how Japan is expanding its military capability to operate overseas.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force designates it as a destroyer, keeping it within the bounds of a pacifist constitution that forbids Japan from possessing the means to wage war, such as force-projecting carriers.
In a signal the Japanese Navy’s growing role in the Indo Asia Pacific will be accompanied by the U.S. fleet’s wider engagement in the region, the U.S. Navy sent Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, commander of the powerful Eastern Pacific Third Fleet, to join Abe on his ship.
Her presence comes after the U.S. scrapped an administrative boundary running along the international date line in the Pacific that demarcates the operating areas for the Seventh and Third fleets.
The change gives Tyson a command role in the western Pacific and will allow the U.S. to deploy vessels quickly to trouble spots in the region, according to Chief of the U.S. Naval Operations John Richardson.
“Adm. Tyson’s presence here is just a recognition that we are trying to be as flexible as possible to keep as many options on the table as possible so that we can be as responsive as possible,” the U.S. Navy’s most senior uniformed officer said.
The forward-deployed Seventh Fleet, with 80 vessels including the USS Ronald Reagan, is the most powerful naval force in the western Pacific. The Third Fleet, with its home port in San Diego, California, includes four carrier strike groups.